Electron Dance

Electron Dance Highlights

26Mar/1831

The Citadel Reborn

This is the sixth part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.

23 Dec 2013. Boson X and Dissembler developer Ian MacLarty tweets, "Have you had a go at PuzzleScript? Citadel looks like it could have been made using it (without the lives and timer)."

He's talking about the game I released in 1993, a Sokobanlike made in a time I'd never heard of Sokoban. I reply to MacLarty: "BUT THE LIVES AND TIMER ARE CRUCIAL (lol) I haven't checked out puzzle script; walk away from potential time sinks... Maybe l8r?"

The jerk fires back, "I don't imagine it'd take you long to learn. Oh and it also allows the player to *undo any number of moves* ;)"

Over four years later, last Wednesday to be precise, for some reason that I can't fathom, I started tinkering in PuzzleScript for the first time. On Saturday, I released a game on itch.io.

The Citadel is back, kids, and you can play it in your desktop browser right now. Let's talk a little about that.

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21Jul/15Off

Learning Curve Extended Play

childhood-destruction-assured

Last year, Polish site AtariOnline.pl wrote about my Learning Curve trilogy on the rise and fall of an 80s game programming childhood. I didn't post about it at the time because it was supposed to be the first of a series; I provided them with copies of all my games as part of an archiving project. It's been a good year now with no sign of followup posts so I might as well post about it! You can visit the Polish original or a Google Translate version, which features the great line: "Persons who ruled Shakespeare speech, I strongly encourage to peek into the aforementioned articles on Electron Dance."

Anyway, I thought I'd throw in a few extra videos to sweeten the deal: a video of "the clone" of The Citadel, a shortened Eulogy and a fragment of a work-in-progress that was never completed.    

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14Jan/14Off

Learning to Stop

This is the final part of the Learning Curve trilogy. In the first part, Learning to Walk, I learnt to program and make games on the Atari 8-bit home computer. In the second part, Learning to Run, I wrote a game in machine-language which was sold commercially.

Return to Citadel

I think it was 1995.

It was the difficult second year of my PhD at Reading University, where far too many of my water wave simulations exploded into colourful infinity and I wanted to shoot my research in the head five times. We had a series of presentations from industry types looking to charm the latest batch of Dr. Mathematicians being squeezed out of the academic womb. I was impressed by one guy from a company called Geoquest that made oil field mapping software, and followed up on email. I asked Geoquest Dude how I might make myself more valuable after my research was complete. I told him about my grand game-making plans, hoping this would sell me as an unstoppable code hero who could work machine language like Jimi Hendrix worked the guitar.

His response? He told me to stop.   

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17Dec/13Off

Learning to Run

This is the second part of the Learning Curve trilogy. The first part, Learning to Walk, explored how I became a game programmer in the 1980s.

citadel room 6

It is 1992.

Beyond small projects, I couldn't finish a damn thing. I had folders crammed full of design sketches for games and numerous disks littered with crude prototypes. I was apt to spend my time on title screens and structure, leaving the actual game bit to be "filled in later", always chasing the high of creation without actually creating something. I believed I was a genius of unearthly codemagick power yet had nothing to show for it except for the work I did with my father: Blitz, Runaround, Escape and also Runaround II (published in New Atari User #53, Dec/Jan 1991). I needed to prove that I had the discipline to see one of my own ideas through.

But that wasn't all I needed to prove. If you wanted to get decent performance out of an 8-bit computer you had to do the business in assembly language. I’d written plenty of machine language snippets and done my share of hacking commercial games to make them easier so I believed I could write one of those grandiose machine language games if I wanted to. But development in assembly language is like having to marshal individual grains of sand into a sandcastle. The scale of the task was enough to subdue any hubris. I needed to prove I could write a game in machine language.

I threw one more goal onto this project of projects. This game I was going to make? I was going to sell it like a proper developer. If I pulled this off, I would never doubt my Atari skills again.    

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10Dec/13Off

Learning to Walk

This is the first part of the Learning Curve trilogy.

atari 2600 game idea letter

As the years progress, the human brain archives ancient experiences it decides aren’t so relevant any more. It shoves the past into a blender face first, making it difficult, if not impossible, to identify events let alone organise them into a sensible chronological sequence. Cause and effect are corrupted.

But there remain flashes of important moments and here are some from my videogame childhood: running home in tears when a café owner switched off a Check Man (Zilec-Zenitone, 1982) arcade cabinet seconds after I’d inserted my one coin for the evening; walking back to the bus stop from Porthcawl beach where there was one last videogame arcade to visit, a place in which we discovered Tutankham (Konami, 1982) and Jungle Hunt (Taito, 1982); losing a whole morning to an obsession with my first virtual world, Adventure (Atari, 1979) on the Atari VCS.

I know that we bought an Atari VCS during a stay in London because I recall seeing its box, complete with screenshots and Ingersoll Electronics logo, bundled onto a National Express bus bound for Wales. I know the most anticipated Christmas presents at that time were Atari cartridges. I could usually tell which presents were the cartridges but never opened them all in one go, as I wanted to savour the annual tradition of the Christmas unboxing.

Childhood seems longer than it is. Although I am left with an impression that the VCS dwelt in our house for many, many years, this cannot be true. I have a receipt here that says we bought it in a store called "GEM Electronics" on 23 August 1980, and I have another receipt saying we purchased an Atari 800 on 8 October 1982. I can rescue cause and effect from these receipts. They imply we sold most of our VCS games in 1982, just two years after we bought the console.

atari 800 invoice

The reason my parents sold the console was practical. Primary school wasn’t stretching me enough and I was the kind of child who engorged his brain on Open University television programmes. A primary school teacher even told my parents off for teaching me at home, pushing me ahead of the class, but they confessed it was because I watched adult literacy programmes like On the Move. My parents decided to buy a computer to prevent me from getting bored, to channel my energies. We didn’t have much money, so the VCS was sold to raise funds for a 32K Atari 800 Home Computer with an Atari 410 Program Recorder.

It was hard to say goodbye to those black, chunky cartridges and their colourful boxes, but we didn’t say goodbye to every game. My little sister had told prospective buyers that we didn’t like Basketball (Atari, 1978) so they took her sage advice and did not buy it. I still have this box today.

But I'm not here to tell you about the Atari VCS. I'm here to tell you about my years as a game developer.   

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